A deal never materialized in Bristol.
But Tennessee and Virginia Tech found a willing broker in Atlanta.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl finally handed out formal invitations on Sunday, and after a few negotiations and a lot of clamoring, the Vols and Hokies will at last meet again. It won’t be at a racetrack, but the Georgia Dome and New Year’s Eve (TV: ESPN, 7:30 p.m.) will apparently work just fine.
“The good news for our fans is we’ve got the matchup,” UT athletic director Mike Hamilton said. “It’s going to be a hot ticket for Tennessee and Virginia Tech.”
That’s long been the assumption about a showdown between the regional powers, which is why there have been persistent rumors about getting them together in the Bristol Motor Speedway infield to capitalize on the interest with the maximum amount of seating.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl committee even joked about moving this game to a similar venue in Atlanta if the teams are interested, and it might eventually want to, given the relatively low supply of tickets left.
The Vols (7-5, 4-4 SEC) had sold 11,000 tickets before the game was even officially set, and the rest of the allotment on UTtix.com was expected to move quickly — and the situation was virtually the same for the Hokies (9-3, 6-2 ACC).
“I think it’s a great game for Virginia Tech and the fan base here at Virginia Tech, and I hope Tennessee feels the same way,” Hokies coach Frank Beamer said. “We’ve been talking about getting together for a long time, but I always felt like we were going to have to sell a lot of binoculars if we got together (in Bristol) because the seats are so far away.
“I think it’s just great to play a program like Tennessee, rich in tradition, of course we’re fairly close to each other, so for our people I know they’ll be very excited to play a program such as Tennessee.”
The Hokies haven’t had a chance since the 1994 Gator Bowl, though both athletic directors have worked to try to arrange another meeting since then.
Hamilton and Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver were close to a deal for a game at some point over the last couple seasons before changes to the infield in Bristol killed it, and now their future schedules are both tied up for about 10 seasons.
“We’ve talked about it as recently as a couple months ago as a possibility for down the road, but the first availability we had was for like 2019 or ’20,” Hamilton said. “We’ll go back and revisit that at some point. And a little-known fact, I don’t know that we really shared this, we actually did throw a date out there at one time with Bristol Motor Speedway. That’s been talked about a bunch and it didn’t work out as something they could have done.
“We’ve talked about it periodically, we’re not opposed to doing that, but now with our schedules as they are, it would be about 10 years from now.”
Obviously neither fan base will have to wait that long anymore.
A traditional venue had an opening that certainly worked for both parties, and nobody is complaining about what could be one of the best matchups of the postseason.
“There’s no question our fans have wanted this game for a long, long time,” Weaver said. “They’ve been talking about it as long as I’ve been here going back 13 years.
“This is something that the Hokies have wanted to do, and we’re just delighted that it’s worked out.”